On October 31, Uniting Distant Stars Vocational Training Center held a general meeting. These meetings bring students and staff together to provide information and solicit feedback. Some shared how this is the first school they have attended in Liberia that “has so much respect for students”. Also, some commented on how this “is the only school that gets the students’ views before making any administrative decisions”. As you may recall in our last newsletter, we shared a video on how we are a youth-driven organization and the students’ feedback confirm this notion.
Additionally, the instructors talked about how much they appreciate the benefit of learning another trade. As a small institution, we pay a small monthly stipend so we added an incentive to learn a trade for free. Many of our instructors take advantage of this opportunity.
Introducing Uniting Distant Stars Instructors
Now we like to introduce you to our instructors and what other roles they play at Uniting Distant Stars. From the photo below we will start from the top photo and go left to right then down to the bottom two photos left to right as follows:
Michael Gaye, Event Decoration Co-Instructor (started in 2019). The class enrollment grew this year, so he has a co-instructor and he is learning from him.
Frank Tugbeh, Catering Instructor (started in 2018). He has a catering business on the side and continues to share his knowledge with the students.
Emmanuel Duwah, Cosmetology Instructor (started in 2019). He is active in his career as a hairstylist.
Myrtle Stoe, Hotel Management Teachers Assistant (started in 2019). She graduated from this course in 2019 and started assisting the instructor, Amed Saah Blama (not pictured). She also serves as the registrar and does other administrative duties. This year she enrolled in event decoration.
Nelson S. Borlay, Academy Principal and Vocational Training Administration (started in 2018). He is enrolled in catering.
Kelvin Fomba, Auto Mechanics & Computer Instructors. He wears many hats including Co-Founder & Country Director and will help anywhere that is needed.
Boakai Dillion, Electrician Instructor (started in 2018). He is a 2017/2018 graduate and took over for the ailing instructor in 2018. Boakai is started helping with administrative duties last year and wants to continue to grow with the organization.
Daniel Williams, Event Decoration Co-Instructor (started 2020). He comes with extensive experience in event decorating, thus the reason why Michael wants to learn from him. He is also enrolled as an electrician student.
Askia D. Nyandibo, Plumbing Instructor (started in 2019). He currently works as a plumber.
Jerry Paypay, Tailoring Instructor (started in 2018). He makes time from his busy tailoring business to teach your students how to make and repair clothes and other items.
As we close the books for 2019, we wanted to show your life-changing impact. You raised $21,537 to support Liberian Children and Youth as follows:
72% from businesses and individuals
21% from employee matches and contributions from United Way campaigns.
7% from in-kind services.
UDS spent $23,471 on the following programs:
Two sets of electrician students installed Solar Power at our center in January and June respectively. It covers 75% of our electrical needs. Cost $9,100 or 39% ($5,200 raised in 2018).
Over 40 students received the Permaculture Design Certification Training. Cost $3,015 or 13% ($2,165 raised in 2018).
Sixteen students continue to receive full-year scholarships from four sponsors. Cost $4,340 or 18.5%.
Two classes (2018-19 and 2019-20) received learning materials to apply their skills in their respective courses. About 75 students graduated in April 2019 and over 100 are currently attending classes at our center. Cost $6,520 or 28%.
Current assets are $7,398 which 80% is allocated for learning materials and 10% for administrative needs. The remaining 10% is the reserve fund.
Thank you again for your generous and continued support of Liberian Children and Youth!
After a successful first year of the UDS Academy, our team gears up for the 2019-2020 academic school year. The preparation started in July when they opened registration in response to the parents’ pleas. These same parents started telling others about what they loved about UDS and new parents flooded our registration office. Our gratitude goes to Myrtle S Toe (2019 Hotel Management Graduate), who graciously volunteered to oversee the primary school registration! Her giving back did not stop with registration, she also will be the preschool teacher. Thank you, Myrtle, for paying it forward!
Another part of preparing for the new school year included a teacher’s workshop. On August 31, all current and new teachers attended an all-day workshop. Kelvin Fomba, Nelson Bolay (UDS Academy Principal), and Webster Dayee (UDS Volunteer) provided information on creating lesson plans, understanding the various learning styles, and much more.
Again, the UDS Academy was started by our Liberian Team last year in response to families unable to pay the rising cost of tuition. The academy is not only a benefit to the community but also our vocational training students who have young students. This allows them to pursue their dream while ensuring their children receive an education.
Thank you for empowering our team to do more to serve the next generation of Liberians! We also welcome any support to help provide more learning materials for the school.
Being recognized in Liberia is one of our greatest challenges as a three-year-old vocational training center. That changed when Alieu Kemokai, Technical & Administrative Assistant/TVET of Youth & Sports Ministry, invited Kelvin Fomba to attend the TVET teachers workshop from July 22 to July 27. Mr. Kemokai presented diplomas at our April 13, 2019, commencement ceremony and left impressed with what he saw. It included 50 participates from several vocational training institutes along with staff employed at the Ministry of Youth & Sports.
Kelvin found this workshop invaluable from both the information shared and the connections made. The instructor, a U.S. woman from UNESCO (UN Agency that developed the TVET program). She started with reviewing the top four learning styles, moved into developing effective learning plans and core concepts in providing quality TVET training. Importantly, UDS maintains a TVET permit since November 2016.
Additionally, UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) helped facilitate this training. Both UNESCO and UNIDO realized the need for additional support of vocational training organizations in Liberia. They plan to provide advanced training to all the attendees in the future.
Throughout this training, Kelvin noticed some of his peers lacked computer knowledge. At the closing program, Kelvin offered six scholarships to instructors to attend our computer course. The Deputy Minister of TVET, Peter Bemah, commended Kelvin’s effort and stressed the importance of helping each other.
Now that Kelvin completed this training, he will be holding a workshop with our instructors next month. His workshop will provide the information he learned and discuss how to implement it into our program.
by Rita Apaloo, Board Member & Fundraising Team Chair
On my first visit, I had the opportunity to see the center being used as an elementary school for kids in the community. I observed them in their shared classroom spaces and during recess/lunch break. The youngest kids (Pre-K) met in the covered patio area that holds the hair braiding training and makeshift salon. Grades 1 – 4 are spread out in the multipurpose room with partitions and the sewing room. Grades 5 and 6 are upstairs in attic-type area.
If you missed Part 1 of Rita’s article, click here.
I later found that one-room schoolhouses are commonplace in Liberia. There are not enough schools to meet the demand. So, these schools are popping up everywhere to provide some relief and the kids don’t miss out on early learning skills. I’m not sure how effective these one-room schoolhouses are and if the government evaluates or supports them. There are no free government schools currently.
My mom and I got to speak to the older kids and answer a few questions from them. They were all respectful, insightful and full of hope. We really enjoyed learning about the school and the students. When asked what message they would like to send to current and potential donors, they were full of gratitude and wanted school supplies and any additional help. They promised to work hard, stay in school and always do their best.
As a board member who has been interested and passionate about the vocational training center and concerned about starting an elementary school and stretching our already limited resources, it was hard not to see the blaring needs of the kids, families and surrounding community. In addition, the kids were so excited and already seem to have formed a community through UDS.
During my visit, it certainly was easy to see the huge economic gaps among the people. I was told by an education industry professional that “schools” have become a business in Liberia. Unfortunately, student success is not always a top priority. I also learned that more and more families are looking beyond academics and are interested in extracurricular activities outside the classroom for a rounded education. As a result, some schools focus too much on these activities than the classroom learning, putting students in a deficit when it comes to learning standards. Many students are also hopping from one school to the next, chasing the latest programming or looking for an easy pass to the next class.
All of these and more are affecting the cost of learning from preschool to high school and beyond. The result is that decent education is moving beyond the reach of more and more families and there are no free government schools to fill the gap. This leaves so many children and families without options. Too many children are put to work to help their family survive or they are left to fend for themselves to survive the harsh economic climate in the country.
Another real challenge to education is access to transportation. Community schools are important to families because they are within walking distance with little or no transportation costs. I learned that some kids have to leave the safety and comfort of home and are sent to live with extended family and friends to be closer to a school, in an effort to reduce or avoid transportation fares.
UDS Academy is tuition-free but UDS requires families to buy uniforms from the center, made by the staff and tailoring students. UDS also sells water to students (an in-demand necessity in the city) to raise funds for school operations. In addition, tailoring is an in-demand skill as educational institutions and businesses alike are preferring uniforms over regular clothing. The trend in fashion clothing made with African fabrics is also a large and growing market for tailoring skills.
It was great to meet and chat with UDS faculty. They are passionate about the work and mission and they put student success at the center of everything they do.
People in Liberia are constantly looking for opportunities to improve their circumstances for the better. The leadership and staff of UDS are no different. Having the center provides multiple opportunities to do more and better. I am amazed at the ingenuity of the leadership and staff in finding ways to do more with limited resources. Is it perfect? Not by a long shot but the challenges are real and the problem-solving and entrepreneurial spirit of the staff is admirable. I see my role as a Board Member to investigate, evaluate and support the efforts of UDS leadership and staff to meet the needs of their students, the community, and business, to help build better futures. Part 3 of Rita’s visit will be shared in our next newsletter. Please stay tuned!
Enoch Daniel Tarr wrote the song, “Education is Better Than Silver & Gold” for UDS.
One of our computer students, Enoch Daniel Tarr, from 2016 wrote a song to promote Uniting Distant Stars Vocational Training Center. Enoch is 16 years old and wanted to express his gratitude for our programs through music.
Our creative and talented board member, Anna Bertch, created a music video of Enoch’s song with photos of all our courses. Please enjoy listening to this uplifting song that will get you moving with the music.